How To Tell Your Husband Or Wife You Want A Divorce

You don't need to 'ask' anyone.

confused husband Getty

As if deciding you want a divorce isn't difficult enough, just thinking about saying those dreaded words — I want a divorce — to your husband or wife can be terrifying enough to paralyze even the strongest of us into inaction.

Understandable as that may be, staying in an unhappy marriage out of guilt and fear only hurts both spouses (and if you have them, your children) in the long run.

Honestly, the process of thinking it all through, planning it out, and getting up the courage to follow through with the steps necessary to begin your divorce process is often worse then the experience itself when "the talk" finally happens.


There are many people who never ask for a divorce not because they don't desperately want to, but because they are concerned about hurting the other person, hurting their children, hurting their financial security, and losing others aspects they do love of the life they have built together. Because of this, there are also many situations in which one spouse asks for a divorce, only to allow themselves to be talked out of it by a partner who is determined to stay together no matter what (hence the popularity of the "John, I want a divorce" meme shown below).

While you can't ever really predict how your husband or wife will react when you tell them your marriage is over, preparing yourself for some of the possible directions your conversation might go in can help put you at ease enough to take the leap you know you need to take.


The tips below will help you get your divorce started as peacefully as possible, making this difficult conversation less traumatic for both of you.*

How to tell your spouse "I want a divorce."

1. Arrange a specific time and place to have the conversation.

If you keep waiting for the ideal moment to magically make itself known to you by the mystical pattern of the stars, you will not only be waiting for an eternity, you will be increasing the likelihood that one of these days you will simply explode in a rage of pent up frustration, sending both of you off on a mad race to find the best (read most unnecessarily expensive) attorney in the city before the other one does.

Find a time you can both sit down at home with no kids and no meetings or otherwise calendared plans either of you will feel pressured or distracted by the clock.

RELATED: How To Make Your Divorce As Expensive As Humanly Possible


2. Be brief and be honest.

If you have reached the point of deciding to get a divorce, chances are that the two of you have already endured arguments, therapy, discussions and cross-complaints. By the time most couples divorce, they have made each other well aware of each of their feelings of dissatisfaction with each other and with married life.

Now is not the time to rehash those arguments. Blame is irrelevant and why is no longer at issue. Marriage is complicated, and this is a time for simplification.

Example of what to say: “We both know our marriage is less satisfying than either of us want or deserve. I appreciate you and I appreciate the life we have shared. I am ready for us to move forward now with a divorce.”

3. Allow your spouse to feel whatever it is that they feel.

Once you’ve made the statement above, all you need to do is pause. There is no way to predict how your spouse will react. Yelling? Crying? Silence? Begging? Agreement?


You can’t accurately guess in advance how they will react, so don’t stress yourself out trying. Just let it happen. There's no need to argue, and no need to yell back or console or apologize or try to make it all OK. It isn’t all OK — that’s the whole point.

Allow your spouse to have their authentic response and number four below for what you can to keep from getting stuck in a loop.

4. Choose a “conversational mantra” in advance.

Memorize the words below, or something similar that feels more natural to your typical way of speaking, and have them in mind and ready to share as needed as the conversation progresses.

Examples of what to say when using a conversational mantra when telling your spouse you want a divorce:

  • They ask if you're sure you want a divorce, You say: "I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”
  • They beg you to reconsider. You say: “I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”
  • They call you some horrible name(s). You say: “I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”
  • They ask why you keep repeating yourself. You say: “Because I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”

Like a tennis match, one person can only keep hitting the ball over the net so many times to a partner who refuses to hit it back. Eventually they will get tired, run out of balls and move on. (Pun not intended, but I kind of like it.)

5. Avoid agreeing to a trial separation if possible.

One of the worst habits of human nature is that we attempt to prolong the inevitable in order to spare ourselves pain. I know that never turns out particularly well for me. How’s it working for you?

The most complicated divorce cases I see are those coming on the heels of a lengthy separation. By the time a married couple have lived separate lives for 6 months, a year or more, there are already new complications laid in their path like fresh cement that may fully solidify at any given moment.

Maybe one of you has a new significant other. Maybe you each have new bank accounts and credit cards and investments along with the old joint ones and have been taking money from one and placing it into another and there is so much financial co-mingling you just bought yourself a full year with a forensic accountant. Maybe the kids are confused and anxious and struggling in school and adding to the pressure all-around.


I promise you, separation is never a pretty picture.

If talk of a trial separation comes up, remember your mantra: “I know this hard. I am sad and hurting too. I have put in as much work on our marriage as I can, and I am ready to get divorced.”

RELATED: 10 Things I Wish I Knew Before Getting Divorced

6. Avoid discussing any possible legal actions or attempt negotiations during this conversation.

This is not the time to have divorce papers served or tell your spouse you already retained an attorney. You are sharing a decision about the status of your relationship, not telling your partner how custody and finances are going to be divided, what you have been told to do next, or what they will or will not get in a settlement.


If you reach a state of calm and your spouse asks you something along the lines of “What’s next?,” you can simply say that you would like to explore your options together.

The two of you can each research divorce mediators in your area through Google or an online directory, or you can agree that one of you will select two or three local mediators to schedule consultations with. Once you have selected someone with whom you both feel comfortable, the mediator will guide you through the process of filing, responding and negotiating all of the parenting and financial aspects of your divorce.

7. Discuss how and when you will tell the children (if you have them).

You may decide to wait a few days to let it all sink in. You may decide to wait and see what your selected mediator suggests. You may wish to go to either or both of your therapists first.

The important thing is that you and your spouse agree on when and how you will share the information of the divorce with the children together as a team, just as you will remain a team as their parents.


8. If the discussion can't be completed in one conversation, set a specific time and place when It will continue.

This can be a lot to get through with such heavy emotions in the air. If either one of you needs some time apart to think, talk to a therapist or trusted friend, or even just breathe, that is completely understandable and should be respected and readily agreed to.

Take care to avoid letting the conversation fade by asking when you can continue the conversation. Choose a specific time and place, or agree one of you will touch base with the other by the next afternoon at the latest. You have come so far and taken this huge step. It would be a shame to allow your spoken decision to be brushed under the rug of her upset.

This is bound to be one of the most difficult conversations of your life. Keep in mind that you are not doing anything to anyone. You are gifting both of you with a key to freedom from the jail you’ve been living in.


Remember: You are not destroying a happy marriage, no matter what anyone says to you.

A happy marriage requires two happy spouses. If your marriage was a solid and happy one, you wouldn’t be racking your brain right now trying to decide when and how to ask for a divorce in the first place.

*Extremely Important Note: These suggestions are not intended to address situations in which domestic violence has occurred or could be reasonable predicted to occur. Leaving an abuser is an extremely dangerous time for both men and women in such situations. Seek professional guidance if you have reason to believe asking for a divorce could endanger you or your children.

RELATED: The Divorce Rate In America — Why Marriage Isn't Always Meant To Last


Deputy Editor Arianna Jeret, MA/MSW, is a former family law mediator and CDC Certified Divorce Coach whose work has been featured in Cosmopolitan, The Huffington Post, Yahoo Style, MSN, Fox News, Bustle, Parents and more. Find her on Twitter and Instagram for more.